This week, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tangled antlers in an archetypal battle of would-be alpha males. First, an anti-Trump super PAC distributed nude images in Utah of Trump’s current wife, Melania, from a 2000 GQ photoshoot, with the caption, “Meet Melania Trump Your Next First Lady. Or, You Could Support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” The clear implication: that a woman who revels in her sexuality is unfit for the White House. Even though the Cruz campaign had nothing to do with the ill-advised meme, Trump called Cruz out on Twitter, warning, “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” “Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought,” replied Cruz.
If you thought that was the end of the proxy war between Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz, you were mistaken. Thursday morning, Trump retweeted the following meme created by a supporter:
You’ll notice that Trump has cleverly turned the tables on the super PAC that slut-shamed his wife, now implying that Melania’s conventional attractiveness makes her more valuable as a status symbol and therefore presumably more deserving of becoming first lady. What makes this image particularly hilarious is that Heidi Cruz is, of course, a conventionally attractive woman who just happens to be making an unattractive expression in that picture, while Melania is studiously making a sexy face. You could play this game with literally any two reasonably attractive people, just by finding a bad photo of one and a good photo of the other. In fact, we here at the Slate site thought about creating a side-by-side using a posed photo of Heidi and a squinty one of Melania to prove this point, but then we realized that in doing so we would become complicit in Donald Trump’s ethos of misogynist objectification, closed all tabs, and retreated to our bunker to await the apocalypse.
Anyway, let us all rejoice that Trump’s habit of turning the subtext of various ugly conservative ideas into text has now extended into the realm of matrimony. In Trump’s America, men will all be judged based on the attractiveness of their wives, and women will be publicly shamed if they’re not photogenic.